Tank shield Turkey: Ankara has put Moscow in a difficult position

Tank shield Turkey: Ankara has put Moscow in a difficult position

Operation in Dzharablus

On Wednesday, Turkish armed forces for the first time since last year, has used its aircraft and ground troops in Syria, launched “operation Shield of the Euphrates. The last time aviation was used in November 2015, when the Turkish air force shot down a Russian bomber. As stated by the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the operation is aimed against the terrorist organization “Islamic state” (IG, is prohibited in Russia), and Kurdish self-defense forces. Turkey intends to “put an end” to the attacks in the border area, said Erdogan. The Turkish operation was launched after the next terrorist attack in the Turkish Gaziantep at the weekend. In the predominantly Kurdish city killed more than 50 people. Erdogan has blamed on ISIS.

Turkey operates with the support of the coalition led by the US, which previously called of the Kurds and their allies in the fight against ISIS. Early morning Turkish tanks, planes and special forces supported by aircraft from the coalition launched a joint coordinated attack in Syria to oust ISIS from the border with Turkey and to prevent the expansion of the territory controlled by the Kurds, told Reuters. Tanks moved into Syria near the Syrian city Dzharablus (located near the border with Turkey, about 80 km East of Aleppo and 30 km West of the city Kobane). A Reuters reporter saw at the border of the six tanks. At the same time strikes were Turkish planes and artillery. The operation began with an intense artillery fire from self-propelled installations “Firtina” (Firtina) and multilateral mortars, by area were inflicted air strikes during the operation, eliminated previously identified target of ISIL, the Turkish permanent mission to the UN. This is the large-scale operation Turkey, indicates Bloomberg.

Smoke over the Syrian town of Jerablus, which is located near the Turkish-Syrian border. 24 Aug 2016

Photo: Reuters/Pixstream

By the end of the day social media accounts of supporters of the Syrian opposition has photos showing the capture of the city by the Turkish forces, who assisted the fighters in place. In the evening of the capture of Dzharablus said Erdogan.

Syrian Kurds control the area to the North of the provinces of Hasaka and raqqa. In the province of Aleppo, Kurdish forces seized small areas in the North-West and North-East. Between the two controlled areas Kurds are the Syrian opposition supported by Turkey, as well as the territories occupied by ISIS. It is the latter area to the West of the Euphrates are going to block Turkish troops. The city Dzharablus, the administrative center of Aleppo is under the control of the Islamists since 2013. Before that territory was occupied by the Syrian opposition. Kurdish forces tried to dislodge the Islamists from its cities to continue the journey to the West, but then the Kurds have deployed forces to the East to neutralize the last pockets of the Syrian army in Hasaka province At the same time the same town, the IG used to smuggle weapons from Turkey.

Capture Dzharablus impossible to make a connection captured by the Kurdish territories, explains researcher of the Institute of Oriental studies Alexander Vassiliev. “This is the main task of the operation — to block Western Bank of the Euphrates to Kurdish forces and to eliminate the possibility of the connection of the two Kurdish regions”, — agrees the Director of the Center for the study of the Middle East and Central Asia semen Bagdasarov.

The Biden Factor

The start of the attack coincided with the visit to Ankara Vice President of the United States Joseph Biden, who on arrival, regretted that did not come sooner, after the failed coup in Turkey on 15 August. “We agreed during our negotiations [with Turkey’s Prime Minister] that the Syrian Kurds will not go to the West of the Euphrates. If they do, under any circumstances, they will not receive support from the United States,” said Biden on Wednesday at a joint press conference with Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yildirim (quoted by “RIA Novosti”). Thus, he repeated the key requirement for Turkey, previously formulated by Ankara.

Joint press conference of the Vice-President of the USA Joseph Biden, the Prime Minister of Turkey Binali Yildirim, 24 Aug 2016

Photo: Burhan Ozbilici/AP

While the US position is hard to judge, points Eastern studies Gumer Isaev: throughout the conflict, Washington was not supported by all Kurdish groups. Earlier disagreements on the Kurds has caused friction between Washington and Ankara.

The Syrian foreign Ministry condemned the Turkish invasion, calling it in communiqué “a flagrant violation of Syrian sovereignty”. The head of the Syrian Kurdish party “Democratic Union” Salih Muslim has promised Turkey’s defeat. The representative of the military wing of the party of Redor Xelil said that Turkey had intervened in Alliance with Damascus and Iran.

“If the Turks will be able to create a buffer zone on the border, a chance to return it under the control of the Syrian government would be illusory,” explains Vasiliev of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He noted that the Turkish invasion would not be complete. “It’s a hybrid invasion, major strikes were artillery, aviation and special forces,” — said the expert. Despite this, according to Vasiliev, the Syrian government will continue to resist it by all means.

Moscow in a difficult position

In Moscow, where in the period of exacerbation of relations with Turkey opened an office of Syrian Kurdistan, expressed concern about the ongoing operations. The Russian foreign Ministry is alarmed by the possibility of further degradation of the situation in the conflict zone. Moscow insists that the Kurds should participate in talks on Syrian settlement in Geneva. On Friday, the Minister of foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov will meet with U.S. Secretary of state John Kerry. One of the topics discussed will be the Syrian settlement.

It’s unclear how long the operation of Turkey, it can be short-term, but may end with the creation of a buffer zone, said Isayev. In the period of aggravation of Russian-Turkish relations, Moscow’s reaction would be sharper, but the current comments suggest that the US, Turkey and Russia have reached mutual understanding on this operation, experts say.

Wait-and-see position of Russia on this issue, Vasiliev explains that the participation of Russian Armed forces in the “Kurdish game” was dictated by the desire to put pressure on Turkey after the downed bomber. “At the meeting of Erdogan and Putin, the Kurdish issue was raised, however, the Russian foreign Ministry very quietly and reservedly at the beginning of the operation” — draws attention Vasiliev.

The operation “Shield of the Euphrates” has put Russia in an awkward diplomatic position, says researcher of the Institute of Oriental studies Gregory Melamed. “Russia urgently needs to develop a new position”, — the expert believes. He explains the need for a response that Moscow has recently established relations with Ankara, on the one hand, and relied on the autonomy of actions of the Kurds on the other. “The operation is confusing, and the interests with which Russia has embarked on a campaign seem to have been forgotten, landmarks lost” — sums up the expert. In this situation, Russia could act as an intermediary between Erdogan and Assad, predicts Melamed. “The Turkish military operation could last for several days, then subside and remain in limbo” — suggests the orientalist. According to him, the mediation role can facilitate that, and Damascus, and Ankara does not want to create a Syrian Kurdistan. This is also the position of Russia, advocating for the territorial integrity of Syria.

Member of the scientific Council of the Carnegie Center Alexei Malashenko also draws attention to the fact that Russia was in a difficult position second time in a week: the Russian space forces have discontinued the use of the air base in Iran, while defense Minister Hossein Dehgan countries have criticized Russia for giving the cooperation of the public, and on Wednesday, Erdogan has shown that, despite the rapprochement with Moscow, he remains a productive cooperation with the United States.

The actions of Turkey on the border with Syria will not affect the operations of the Russian HQs in Aleppo, says a senior lecturer in the Department of political science school of Economics Leonid Isaev. During the operation, Turkey can try to create corridors for the delivery of weapons to the Syrian opposition, but it will not bring her serious preferences in the confrontation with the Syrian authorities, he said.